Thursday Theology: Christ for the Preachers (A Homily)

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At the Crossings seminar this past January we heard homilies from three of the younger pastors who had participated in last fall’s trial run of a new Crossings project in mentoring preachers. We have already shared two of these homilies with you. Today we send you the third. It’s by the Rev. Matthew Knuppel, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church (NALC) in Pfafftown, North Carolina. His text is 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, the Epistle for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B.

Matt wrestles here with a problem that every self-aware preacher can’t help but face. Along the way, he invites fresh faith in the Risen One who gave his all as much for preachers as for the people preachers talk to.

God grant such faith to us all!

Peace and Joy,
The Crossings Community



Christ for the Preachers (A Homily)
by Matthew Knuppel


If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! —1 Cor. 9:16

Rev. Matthew Knuppel
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church (NALC) in Pfafftown, North Carolina

As a preacher, I find it difficult to read this passage and not be humbled by the importance St. Paul places on preaching the gospel. “Woe to me” Paul says, “If I do not preach the gospel.” That word “Woe” is most often associated with death, so Paul might as well be saying, “If I stop preaching the Gospel, you might as well start singing my funeral dirge, because if I’m not dead I might as well be.”

Paul speaks about preaching the gospel the same way we might talk about breathing, or eating and drinking. Here, he doesn’t talk about preaching as some kind of special talent, or an impressive skill, but he says, “Necessity is laid upon me”; it’s a compulsion that he can’t help.

That’s why Paul doesn’t see any grounds for boasting in preaching the Gospel. It would be like boasting about eating breakfast this morning, or looking for someone to congratulate you for the air in your lungs.

No, but for Paul, preaching the gospel isn’t simply “important,” but necessary.

None of us would be here this morning if we didn’t believe preaching the gospel is important. But Paul pushes that envelope a little farther until we’re forced to ask ourselves: do I treat my preaching with this same level of necessity?

I’ll be the first to confess that in my short four years as a preacher I’ve caught myself on certain Sundays treating my preaching as another chore to get done. “Well, it’s Sunday again, time to put on my Sunday best, go to church, give my little sermon, stop by the grocery store and get home in time to watch football.”

But then, by the time I step up to the pulpit, I look out at all the faces of people who aren’t waiting for a chore to get done. Those that gather in my church’s pews didn’t get up that morning to hear me check off another item on my to-do list. They came to receive life-giving news in the midst of all manner of different crises they’re facing. They’re waiting with desperate ears to hear the sweet mercy of Christ healing the wounds they’ve brought with them. And the best I could give, the level of care and seriousness I brought them, is: Order of Confession, check, read the Gospel, check, sermon, check, the Creed, check….

And if that isn’t bad enough, I have the nerve to expect the reward of praise from them when they leave. “Oh Pastor, what a great sermon! That was one of your best, Pastor, keep it up!” As if I have the right to be offended when I’m not recognized.

But Woe…woe to me, and woe to any of us who fail to see the importance in what we are called to do as preachers. Woe if we treat preaching like another task to accomplish before we can relax. And woe if we seek an earthly reward for doing what God has put us on this earth to do.

In my sacristy office, I have a prayer by Martin Luther hanging on the wall that I do my best to read while I’m putting on my vestments. You may have heard it before, it’s called the Sacristy Prayer, and it goes like this:

O Lord God, You have made me a pastor and teacher in the church. You see how unfit I am to administer rightly this great, responsible office; and had I been without Your aid and counsel, I would surely have ruined it long ago. Therefore do I invoke You. How gladly do I desire to yield and consecrate my heart and mouth to this ministry. I desire to teach the congregation. I, too, desire ever to learn and to keep Your Word my constant companion and to meditate thereupon earnestly. Use me as Your instrument in Your service. Only do not forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will certainly bring it all to destruction. Amen.

Perhaps the necessity Paul sees in his preaching doesn’t come from his confidence in his own abilities, or how second-nature preaching comes to him—but in recognizing the One who has made him into a preacher in the first place: the crucified and risen Jesus Christ who called him on the road to Damascus.

Dukic Danijel Govor na gori
From Wikimedia Commons

In those times when our preaching and preparation doesn’t reach the standards set before us, in those times when we find ourselves unfit for the ministry, it is Christ who makes us fit to preach the gospel. When we’ve racked up woes from our failure to uphold the office of preaching, it is Christ who takes our woes and bears them in the cross.

The standards for preaching the gospel are exactly as Paul has laid out for us: it is our necessary compulsion as preachers to preach the gospel and to preach it well. Yet thanks be to God that we are never alone in the pulpit, and as long as we abide in the Word of our Savior we will never be left to bring our ministries to destruction. By His calling, He reminds us that He is with us always to carry us and mend that which is imperfect in us, that those who hear us may hear the gospel free of charge, because it has already been purchased by the risen Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday Theology: that the benefits of Christ be put to use
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